Well now we know why David Letterman's teeth are messed up and Jay Leno's chin is swollen: because part of their training to be late-night talk-show hosts involved getting beat up in a boxing ring. After a taking last week off, Louie returned last night with the second part of its "Late Night" trilogy, immediately resolving the cliffhanger (cliffhanger? On the infamously discontinuous Louie!?!?) in the opening moments. Louie said "yes" and agreed to be considered for the possibility of competing for a job that may or may not be his depending on who else is up for the gig and a lot of financial considerations.
These "Late Night" episodes are a look at show business through Louis C.K.'s brain, with Louie offering its hero the dream job of a lifetime: hosting CBS's Late Show. But the path to the Ed Sullivan Theater is littered with fake friends spouting fake advice, senile old network executives stuck in the Cold War, and a brutal mental and physical toll on Louie, who's now going through the process of being molded into a man that studios think America will love enough to watch for an hour each night and not change the channel when a Lexus commercial comes on.
It's perfectly appropriate that weirdo David Lynch made a guest appearance as Jack Dahl, the mentor who will ment Louie into the next Letterman, because Louis C.K. sees the industry as fraught with unnecessary hoops and indecipherable steps. The scenes with the network waiting rooms and meetings with the executives could easily have been deleted scenes from Mulholland Drive. Why does Mr. Dahl have a gun and foreign currency in his desk? Because he's fucking weird, that's why. The inmates are running the asylum; we're talking about people who are so out of touch with what actually works that they're beholden to the days of old, suffering early onset rigor mortis that's so rigid, if they fell down they'd shatter into a million old-man pieces. This business, this process, it's so antiquated.
And that's exactly what Louie wants to show you. Louis C.K., mature after decades in the business and finally reaping the benefits of his talents largely through his own stubbornness and ideals, has been through this in his real life. The offers have poured in, dump trucks full of money have pulled into his driveway, and friends have likely told him what he wants to hear but not what they actually think. Meanwhile, he prefers doing things his own way. He has almost total control over his small, critically adored show on FX. He's circumvented ticket-broker vultures and scalpers looking to cash in on his live performances by selling directly to the public. He created, largely on his own, his own stand-up special and sold it on the internet, for five bucks a pop, as a test to see if it could be done without some corporate intervention, simultaneously ensuring that the result was more controllable by the artist and cheaper for the consumer (it was a HUGE success, and he took the majority of the money and donated it to charity and gave bonuses to those who worked on it). Bluntly put, this is a man who rightfully thinks show business is in the hands of the wrong people and wants you to see it the way he sees it.
And one of the ways he sees it is as a tedious, drawn-out, and boring process. And I think some of that was reflected in the pacing of both this episode and last week's. There's some art that's going beyond the television happening here, as the story of a man going through this long process is more effective if we endure the long process with him. Heck, the one-episode break between Part 1 and Part 2 even works to the story's advantage, if you really think about it, because just as we were dying to see what became of this job offer, Louis C.K. was probably going through the same thing waiting for a job offer at one point in his career.
That breaks all the rules of traditional comedy as laid out by Dahl. "Comedy is all about timing, son. You gotta get 'em, you gotta tell 'em," he said as Louie wondered why Dahl wasn't haunting a crypt somewhere. But that's Louie's M.O., breaking the rules of comedy. And watching Louie break the rules of comedy in a comedy while its on-screen character is being told the rules of comedy becomes
mindfuckingly brilliant high art. The punchlines aren't there, but the statement is profound and hilarious. If you want factory-made punchlines, go watch 2 Broke Girls and let the jokes elicit some type of conditioned behavioral response. Louie's taking observational humor to the next level.
– Should Louie take the job if he's offered it? It's the opportunity of 10 lifetimes, but is it worth it for Louie to be sucked into that showbiz machine? Obviously to preserve the show he can't, lest Louie turn into The Larry Sanders Show, but just looking at this from a man-on-the-street perspective and not from a Louie perspective, he should at least give it a try.
– What do you think the point of the supermarket scene (when Jane caught an old woman stealing) was? TVDoneWright's Adam Wright (follow him on Twitter, he's great and opinionated) says it was to show that Louie's kids will be fine without him, just as his ex-wife said, and serves as encouragement to go for the job. That's one take, but I'm not totally sure I agree. Louie himself wasn't interested in intervening, and I don't think that a starving old woman taking food from a large chain market with bloated profit margins so she can survive is actually a bad thing. In other words, little Jane is kind of an asshole. Maybe it's actually a sign that Louie needs to stick around and teach her the nuances of right and wrong.
– There were some amazing cameos in this one, but why is it that my favorite was Clay Davis from The Wire as the boxing instructor? Next week: SEINFELD.
– Was the bit with the boxing too heavy-handed as an analogy for the rigors that late-night hosts go through?